Let the Mediocrity Begin: Blackhawks Breakdown Week 1

The Chicago Blackhawks began the 2021-22 season with a three-game road trip. After a preseason that left more questions than answers, the team looked to prove that the moves made by management in the offseason paid off. In addition, captain Jonathan Towes made his triumphant return after a long-term health battle that left him sidelined last year. However, to fully establish a winning tone for the season, the Blackhawks needed to win at least the final two games of the week, and the big names, both new and old, needed to prove that they still have what it takes to win the Stanley Cup.

chicago Blackhawks at colorado Avalanche

Game #1 – October 13th, 2021

The Avalanche are a powerhouse team this season. After last year’s crushing defeat against the Las Vegas Golden Knights, they’re looking for revenge. While many Blackhawks fans were expecting the game against the Avalanche to be nothing short of a challenge, what actually happened was a complete and utter massacre at the hands of Denver. The first period started with Jack Johnson, notorious for being anything but a crafty goal scorer, taking advantage of sloppy defensive positioning and swiftly going top shelf on Marc-Andre Fleury. A little over a minute later, Gabriel Landeskog redirected a shot through Fleury’s pads to put the Avalanche up by two. Up to this point, the Blackhawks looked like a complete disaster defensively. There was no chemistry present whatsoever. However, the issues reached their peak when Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton left a tired line on the ice after being allowed to change them out. The Avalanche jumped on the chance and dismantled the Hawks’ defense, leading to Bowen Byram scoring his first career goal. The score was 3-0 less than halfway through the first period, and things were not looking good.

After netting 16 shots in the first ten minutes of the game, the Avalanche looked like they were going to run away with an easy victory. The Blackhawks went to the power play towards the end of the first. Despite a mediocre power play, the Blackhawks were able to capitalize on the man advantage with a Dominik Kubalik goal. Rather than energize the bench, Kubalik’s goal was followed up by a questionable too many men penalty that put the Hawks a man down. Alex DeBrincat got a chance shorthanded, but nothing was able to come of it. The first 20 minutes of play came to an end, and a change had to be made quickly to revitalize the team’s chances of coming away with a victory.

The next period of play was pretty even. The Blackhawks managed to gather some good momentum, but Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper was nothing short of spectacular. Fleury had to routinely bail out the defense, which looked like they would have struggled to defend against a peewee team. Luckily for Fleury, the goalpost did some bailing out for him as well, which led to a very sentimental moment between him and his beloved iron. Dach had a few good looks but was unable to make anything connect. Shortly after, Nazem Kadri slipped a goal past Fleury and the entire Blackhawks defense. After that, not much changed throughout the entirety of the second period. Unfortunately, the third period was more or less the same story except for a Connor Murphy game goal at the end.

This was an awful showing by the Blackhawks. DeBrincat, Dach, McCabe, Fleury, and Kubalik all had decent games. However, the big names that should have shown up on the scoresheet, namely Kane, Towes, and Jones, all had less than stellar showings, especially Seth Jones. There were many times throughout the game where he was entirely out of position or lagging behind the Avalanche forwards. Granted, he needs time to adjust to a new coaching scheme with new players, but if this is what fans can expect, it will be a long few seasons with no cap flexibility. However, this was only the first games. Maybe the game against the Devils on Friday went a bit better.

chicago Blackhawks at new jersey Devils

Game #2 – October 15th, 2021

Spoiler alert: the game against the Devils did not, in fact, go a bit better.

Kevin Lankinen was given his first start this season, almost immediately tainted when Dougie Hamilton scored 17 seconds into the game. Right away, Blackhawks fans knew that there was going to be a massacre on ice. The Hawks went to the power play halfway through the first period, which resulted in them clearing the puck on their own and the Devils getting a breakaway. The top lines were getting very long shifts, with almost no ice time for the bottom lines. Clearly, Colliton was determined to give Jones, Kane, and Towes plenty of chances to prove themselves. Unfortunately, this came at the cost of ice time for recently signed Erik Gustafsson, who barely got time to do his thing. Hagel and Kurashev looked like they were playing extremely hard, which was a nice distraction from the shaky defense. The first period came to an end with a 1-0 lead for the Devils.

The second period started with a bang. DeBrincat was set up beautifully by Kane, which tied the game early on. The Blackhawks looked like they wanted to send a message that they would not lay down and die. They held the majority of the momentum for the second period. Everything looked like it was clicking a bit better all around the board, even if the defense was still struggling from time to time. It was around this point when McCabe and Murphy’s line began to show cracks. McCabe accidentally took a shot at his own goal, and they struggled to keep up with the play. The end of the period drew near with an energized Blackhawks team ready to pull ahead, at least until Jack Huges buried a beautiful spinning shot to help the Devils take a 2-1 lead. This unearthed a severe issue with the current squad; the Blackhawks can not obtain a lead, even when they control play. Going into the third period, the team needed another early goal to shift the momentum back in their favor.

Unlike the second period, the third period was a total disaster for most of the 20 minutes. Around five minutes into play, Andreas Johnson got a goal after Dawson Mercer hit the post. As if the hope of Blackhawks fans could not get any lower, it was beginning to look like they were going to lose to the Devils after a crushing defeat to the Avalanche. However, momentum began to pick up when Mercer took a four-minute high-sticking penalty. Colliton pulled Lankinen, and Dach was able to net his first goal of the season. The goal rejuvenated the team, who fought hard to tie the game late in the third. Jones made a beautiful play to keep the puck in the zone and tossed it to Hagel, who sent a pass over to Johnson. Johnson tapped the puck in the back of the net, and suddenly, the game was tied up. The buzzer sounded, and for the first time this season, the Hawks had a chance to end things in overtime.

Unfortunately, the fantastic comeback ended up being for nothing. Overtime was fairly uneventful, but the Blackhawks managed to hold possession for most of the period. Dach attempted to toss the puck in front of the net, but Hughes managed to snatch the puck and cause a two-on-one . Kane managed to catch up, but the slick mits of the former NTDP superstar were able to dismantle Lankinen, and the Devils ended the game in the extra period. The Hawks managed to show a bit of fire, but it was not enough. However, there was no time for rest. The Blackhawks took on the Pittsburgh Penguins the next night. They had to perform better the following night to prove that this year will not be another fluke.

chicago Blackhawks at pittsburgh Penguins

Game #3 – October 16th, 2021

Honestly, hope is nothing but a myth at this point.

As if the first two games of the week were not bad enough, the Blackhawks dropped the ball by a mile during the final match of the week. In an attempt to one-up letting in a goal 17 seconds into the game against the Devils, Jones accidentally deflected the puck into the pads of Fleury to rack up an own-goal 15 seconds into the game. While an argument can be made that Fleury was caught off guard and was not to blame for the early goal, the same argument can not be made for the second goal. He left the crease to gather the puck on a dump and chase play. Unfortunately, in a similar fashion to the series against the Montreal Canadiens in last year’s playoffs, Fleury grossly mishandled the puck behind the net, and the Penguins capitalized. Not long after, Gustafsson left his position to make an offensive play, which gave the opposition a two-on-one. The Penguins score. What happens immediately after? The penguins score again. Fleury was pulled, and the Blackhawks shot counter was anemic. The period ended, and hope was gone.

Periods two and three were the same story yet again. The Blackhawks show some hope with a Kane goal; the Penguins return the favor immediately after. However, even when the Blackhawks had sustained momentum, they could not convert to save their lives. Dach managed to get a goal towards the end of the game to make the score 5-2, which is how the game would end. The Blackhawks have yet to win a game this season, and at least two of them were winnable games. Without a doubt, this was the most disappointing game thus far.

Looking Ahead

Next week’s schedule looks a lot easier on paper. All three games are at home, and all three are against teams that should be beatable. If the Blackhawks cannot pull off a win next week, serious trouble is ahead. Without a first-round pick this year, Shane Wright could very easily become a Columbus Blue Jacket at the hands of the Blackhawks’ failure. They can not afford to be bad this year. Too much is riding on a playoff appearance. Colliton needs to motivate his team, and he needs to get things under control. Dach is looking like one of the only players with an interest in playing. Something has to change for this upcoming week, and it needs to change fast.

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